NASA solves decades-long mystery of strange lights on Earth

Brittany A. Roston - May 17, 2017
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NASA solves decades-long mystery of strange lights on Earth

Back in 1993, Carl Sagan and his colleagues spotted some glints of light in photos of Earth taken by the spacecraft Galileo. These patches of light were spotted on coastlines and in the ocean, and were assumed to be the result of sunlight reflecting off smooth patches of water. Years later, however, individuals have spotted similar spots of light in photos captured by the Deep Space Climate Observatory’s camera, only with one big difference: the bright spots are on land in addition to water, paving the way for a good ole fashioned mystery.

According to a recent statement by the American Geophysical Union, many photos captured with NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) show hundreds of instances of these light flashes on Earth, and that’s just covering a period of a single year. It is known these flashes are reflections of light off of something, but their presence on land seemed to eliminate the possibility of them being reflections from flat water surfaces.

Because of the location of the flashes, such as the one above shown near the top of South America, researchers could conclude that the light isn’t coming from the surface itself. According to NASA researcher and DSCOVR deputy project scientist Alexander Marshak, ‘It’s definitely ice, and most likely solar reflection off of horizontally oriented particles.’ That is, these flashes of light are reflections off particles of ice that are high up in the planet’s atmosphere.

Now that researchers have determined the nature of these flashes of light, they’re preparing for further study to see whether such data can be implemented into related computer models that show how much heat is escaping and reaching our planet. Likewise, detecting these kinds of flashes of light could help shed light on things related to exoplanets. A fully study detailing the research is available here.

SOURCE: American Geophysical Union


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